Two protest petitions together backed by more than 1,000 concerned signatories have prompted Scottish Borders Council chiefs to reconsider their controversial proposals to axe dozens of the region’s smaller playparks.
The council agreed in May 2018 to consult on the possible closure of 74 small playparks it says are underused and falling into disrepair.
Instead, it plans to spend £5m over the next decade on six large playparks, three skateparks and four fitness shelters.
However, following a backlash from residents in Hawick and Kelso, two petitions have been handed into the local authority objecting to those plans.
Hawick’s petition is backed by 660 signatories and Kelso’s by 492.
In Hawick, 10 playparks are at risk – at Bowden Road, Burnfoot Community School, Hawick Green, Hislop Gardens, Leaburn Drive, Mayfield, Millers Knowe, Waverley Walk, Wellington Court and Wilson Drive.
Nine Kelso playparks face the axe – at High Croft, Meadow Court, Orchard Park, Rosewood Gardens, Springwood Rise, Spylaw Park, Sydenham Court and Woodside Gardens.
Those petitions were presented to the council’s audit and scrutiny committee today, October 24, so it could hear from the lead petitioners and decide how to respond.
Appearing before the committee, Kirsty Wichary, lead petitioner for Kelso, asked councillors: “What do we want our towns to look like in the future? Financial constraints aside, do we not look to have a beautiful Borders with outdoor spaces for all to enjoy?
“How did we get to this point, where there is no money for these parks? Investing in new technology for education is to be applauded, but if parents had a choice, which would they choose?
“Technology isn’t helping our children to lead healthy, well-rounded lives. The stress of being a youngster in the 21st century is enormous.
“We should be investing in more play areas and green spaces instead of taking them away.
“The thought of removing these playparks seems a very backwards step, a step towards a cultural desert and a future for our youngsters with more weight problems, more mental health issues and future generations unable to communicate effectively, even within their own peer groups.
“Do you really want to be remembered as the council who handed out iPads but took away the parks?”
Hawick’s lead petitioner, Greg Dalgliesh, owner of the town’s Think Fitness 4 Less gym in Hawick, was unable to attend the meeting due to a family bereavement, so Hawick and Hermitage councillor Watson McAteer presented his petition on his behalf.
He told the committee: “600 mainly local residents, parents and family members in Hawick have chosen to exercise their right to object to a proposal that would see 74 playparks across the Scottish Borders, including 10 in Hawick, the largest town in the Borders, effectively close as a result of a disinvestment of financial support from this council.
“The vast majority of these people and the many who support this action through other means are stakeholders in Scottish Borders Council. They live here, they are required to pay their council tax and, consequently, they have a right to determine how that money should be spent.
“I quote from the petition: ‘we believe in this instance ‘bigger and better facilities’ should not be justification to remove the smaller playparks that are situated in the various housing estates in Hawick and the Borders.
“‘It is very clear from the comments associated with this petition and via social media these smaller parks are still well used and have been described as a safe place to play and exercise on the doorstep of many homes.
“‘Not everyone can access the likes of Wilton Lodge Park on a regular basis, and children with additional needs also find these areas too busy and noisy’.”
Councillors discussed a number of possible actions including sending the playpark proposals back out to the public for further consultation and gauging the opinion of community councils in affected areas.
In the end, councillors voted to support sending a motion to the next full meeting of the council, scheduled for next Thursday, October 31, asking it to reconsider giving authority to officers to determine which playparks can be closed.
That motion was proposed by Tweeddale East councillor Heather Anderson and seconded by Selkirkshire councillor Elaine Thornton-Nicol.
A counter motion, proposed by East Berwickshire councillor Jim Fullarton and seconded by Jedburgh’s Scott Hamilton, was also put forward, but it lost out to Ms Anderson and Ms Thornton-Nicol’s suggestion by five votes to three.
Speaking after the meeting, Ms Wichary said: “I’m very happy that it’s going to have to go back to the council to be reconsidered.
“I’m assuming, hopefully, that our petitions in both Kelso and Hawick have given them a lot of food for thought and that we won’t see the closure of all the parks that were mentioned.
“It’s very clear that there are cost implications, but I’m quite confident that there will be some sort of compromise made.”
Mr McAteer added: “I am delighted that the majority of the council’s audit and scrutiny committee have supported the Hawick petition designed to stop the council closing a number of our playparks.
“Their decision will now resulted in this matter being referred to a full meeting of Scottish Borders Council where elected members will decide if further consultation and a reconsideration of this divisive policy will take place.
“I am hoping that elected councillors will put aside their political differences and respect the wishes of the Hawick and Borders public to make sure our children and young people have safe and secure play areas near their homes.”